Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Keeping the Faith

The venue had the gaudy elegance that was popular in the 60’s and 70’s.  Gilded mirrors, crystal chandeliers and even a grand marble staircase that lead to the cavernous dining hall above. It was reminiscent of my late Aunt’s home where heavy chintzes combined with flowery brocades.  It even had the old smell too.

It was 1975 again.  Only I was not thirteen years old anymore.

I attended a fundraising gala for my old high school.

I had stepped back in time.  My old neighbors were there, a physician’s family whose many children had in turn become physicians themselves.  The daughter, who was being honored that night, was an accomplished breast surgeon, accompanied by her plastic surgeon husband and her internist brother. 

There were nuns from my sister’s high school who politely but vaguely remembered my last name. Chances are they remembered later that evening all the trouble my sister had caused them as she rebelled against their Catholic high school and wanted to graduate in 3 years. She was barely 16 at the time.  My parents thought she was too young.  Conversely, she thought she was too old for the white-gloved patent leather shoe nonsense.  They both won in a sense, she eventually going to a much more highly ranked college and my parents had her home for one more year. The war was ruthless however. 

The collateral damage was that I went to the other Catholic Girls High school just barely six blocks away, rupturing friendships that were almost 9 years in the making.  But books replaced those friendships and I think to this day, I got the better spoils of the battle between my parents and sister.

There were parents of friends who were extraordinarily polite yet had aged so incredibly so. They were the “young” parents of my high school set, but age is now so relative. Now they are now older and frailer. Not even I would be considered a young parent of a high schooler anymore.

The evening was  celebrated with typical benedictions and prayers that I can recall only with prompting.  Even the sign of the cross has become a odd gesture that I had to consciously think about.

I even ran into an old boyfriend there.  In traditional fashion, his daughter attends the same high school as her mother and both grandmothers combined. 

“In my house it’s 1957,” he proudly and paternally boasted as a throwback to the conventional values that persisted in that room, in that parish, in that neighborhood, in that city.

And in 1957. 

The Poppa!  TRADITION! I could hear a fiddler in the background.

Strong-willed daughters will change that heart. They always do.

My parents made the right choice in 1975 having me attend that high school.  It was the best choice they had at the time.  The public high schools may have had the basic academics but racial tensions were still very high. My geographic high school had only two white students.  In contrast, my Catholic high school had only 3 black students in a class of 114.  It was white flight without the movers.

 But as times change,  attitudes do so more slowly.  Over time, the city quietly assembled an Academic High School, even gave it that name, and through much hard work it has become one of the best high school in the state as well as the country. The city gentrified, improved, progressed and finally took advantage of its proximity to  Manhattan. I love going back now to new restaurants, the amazing waterfront and a new vibrancy. And I do go geographically home from time to time.

The most odd scenario of the evening was supposed to be its most engaging,  yet it was its most telling.  The Chairman of the Gala greeted me at the door. 

“”Maureen’ it’s nice to see you.”

“Huh? What?”I  silently gasped. ( My name is not Maureen). I honestly did not know what to say. I was initially upset that maybe the ravages of age had taken too horrible a toll.  I am unrecognizable.  Crap. I have aged, gained weight, looked hagged, etc.  

But that’s me.  Always my fault.  Mea Culpa.

Bless me father for I have……

Not sinned! It took me days to realize I am glad she didn’t recognize me.  I have earned these lines, thicker waist and cropped fingernails by doing things I love. I am raising three beautiful girls as their father has moved a thousand miles away. I care for many patients that others would find loathsome and unprofitable.  I dig gardens, refinish furniture , write awful poetry and browse used book sales for old poetry. I am a dogged researcher and I have the bad eyesight to prove it.  I cook. I eat. I garden.  I cook and eat what I garden.  All well.  Perhaps too well. Oh well.

That lemon of a greeting became my hard (fought) lemonade.

I have learned to finally make that too.

 I am not the obedient, quiet Catholic girl that I once was. Hell, I even wore a plunging dress.

And I even brought a date.

No, I am not the same.  No, I am not 17 anymore.

 I have seen the world, lived the world, tasted the world, been educated in the world and have progressed in the world.

Tom Wolfe famously said “ You can’t go home again.” 

I disagree.

You can, as this gala can attest.

But why would I want to?

Thank you SDA this Thanksgiving. 

You are still teaching me valuable lessons about life. 

Only this lesson is that you can leave it all behind.